The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge [in Shelf Awareness]
“A girl cannot be brave, or clever, or skilled as a boy can. If she is not good, she is nothing,” an angry Reverend Erasmus Sunderly admonished his usually obedient 14-year-old-daughter, Faith. His words are harsh, but in Victorian England, not without societal support. He can’t have been more wrong about his brave, clever, and skilled daughter, however, for “All knowledge – any knowledge – called to Faith, and there was a delicious, poisonous pleasure in stealing it unseen.”
The elder Sunderly – who presents himself as both a man of God and science in the time of Darwin – is forced to leave the family home in Kent in shame when his most recent fossil research is revealed to be falsified. With his wife and two children in tow, he attempts to start afresh on the island of Vane, only to be exposed again and further reviled. Not long after, when his lifeless body is discovered, Faith – who loves and admires her father in spite of his oppressive opinions – resolves to investigate his suspicious death. She finds clues in her father’s papers that lead her to the fantastical Lie Tree from southern China, which “would only flower or bear fruit if it was fed lies.” Ingesting that precious fruit would grant the liar valuable secret knowledge. With her father gone, Faith seeks to find just how much he was willing to risk to feed the Lie Tree.
In this thrillingly subversive read, internationally bestselling author Frances Hardinge (Fly by Night, The Lost Conspiracy, Cuckoo Song) explores not only the unpredictable, runaway nature of lies, but age-old, hotly contested themes. She pits religion and creationism against science and evolution. And while her male characters often make pronouncements akin to insults – “… too much intellect would spoil and flatten [the female mind], like a rock in a soufflé,” – Hardinge slyly empowers her women in both their good and evil intentions as they repeatedly prove society’s artificial limitations are meant to be challenged, manipulated, and ultimately transcended.
The Lie Tree won the 2015 Costa Book of the Year, only the second children’s title to garner one of the U.K.’s most prestigious literary honors. Hardinge blends history, mystery and fantasy to create a fiercely emotional, lusciously descriptive morality tale, murderous thriller, and dysfunctional family epic.
Shelf Talker: In Victorian England, 14-year-old Faith discovers the Lie Tree and uncovers the truth behind her father’s demise.
Readers: Young Adult
Published: 2016 (United States)